Ajax MPP Rod Phillips resigns cabinet post and will not seek re-election in June

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Published January 14, 2022 at 5:14 pm

Ajax MPP Rod Phillips has resigned the Long-Term Care portfolio and will not run for Ajax’s seat in Queens Park in the upcoming provincial election. He will step down as MPP in February

Phillips announced his retirement from politics via twitter, citing a desire to return to the business world.

“I have always considered public service a privilege and it has been an honor to serve as the MPP for Ajax and in three Cabinet portfolios,” he explained, “That said, my professional life has been spent in the business world and I look forward to returning to the private sector.”

 

Prior to his 2018 election, Phillips was president and CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, working to reform the OLG’s reputation tainted by theft scandals. Following a profitable stint at OLG, he chaired the board of Postmedia until 2017.

Shortly afterward, the Progressive Conservative party tapped Phillips to run in Ajax in the 2018 election. He would win with 40 per cent of the vote, ousting Liberal incumbent Joe Dickson, who had held the seat since 2007.

The freshly elected Phillips was appointed Minister of the Environment when Doug Ford’s government took office. Among his first moves during this stint was scrapping Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, which capped emissions from business unless the companies paid for an excess allowance. The program made Ontario $3 billion in the year it was active.

Despite promising to protect the Carruther’s Creek Headwaters while running for office, Phillips did not deliver protections through the Greenbelt before rising to Minister of Finance in June 2019. He would reiterate this support years later during the review period for Durham’s new hospital site. Studies show developing the site could result is 113 per cent more flooding in Ajax.

Phillips new role as Finance Minister put him in charge of Ontario’s funding and relief response to COVID-19. He and the Ford government injected $17 billion into Ontario service, while slashing business taxes in the March 2020 budget.

Both Phillips and Ford had to repay 10 per cent of their 2020 salaries into the Consolidated Revenue Fund when they failed to update the province on the budget on the March 31 deadline.

Phillips’ 18-month tenure as Finance Minister would end mired in controversy. He left Canada for a personal vacation to Caribbean island of St. Barts on December 13 as his government urged Ontarians to stay home for the Holidays.

Several tweets and social media posts, such as a video of Philips in his home reading by the fireplace, were scheduled during Phillips’ absence to give the impression he was still in the country.

He did not return to Canada until after the trip was made public on December 31, almost a full week after the province went into lockdown on Boxing Day and three days after the trip was first reported.

When he returned, Phillips resigned his post as Finance Minister, but his exile from Cabinet wouldn’t last. Ford reassigned Phillips to the Long-Term Care portfolio the following June.

Phillips inherited the LTC portfolio from Ottawa doctor Merlee Fullerton. By the time Phillips took over, 4,000 long-term care and retirement home residents had died of COVID-19 across the province. A month before his appointment the military was brought in to support five LTC’s across the province, including Pickering’s Orchard Villa.

A scathing military report was later released detail unsanitary conditions like exposed rotting food and cockroach infestations, lack of PPE, improper care routine and elder abuse.

Since then the Ford government has invested heavily into new mostly privately operated Long-Term Care homes in effort to create 30,000 new beds by 2028. Ajax is set to see at least 192 of those beds in a new Schlegel Villages facility set to be built in 2023.

Of note, Schlegel Villages CEO James Schlegel is a prolific PC donor, spending $50,000 since 2007 (as of June 2020) and sitting on Ontario’s Incident Management System Long-Term Care Table.

Part of this $6.4 billion investment in Ontario LTC may go to the subjects of the military report, with Orchard Villa requesting a 30 year license extension and funding supports for a new building to contain 87 new beds. Orchard Villa lost 83 patients to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.

Critics such as Oshawa MPP Jenifer French characterized the move as rewarding bad actors, “in the wake of a terrible, ongoing nightmare.”

Despite these difficulties, Phillips calls his work as LTC Minister, “The most meaningful in my time as a Minister of the Crown.”

The minister said he chose to step down when he did to allow the Progressive Conservative government time to find a new candidate for the Ontario election scheduled for June 2.

He concluded his statement thanking his colleagues in the Ford government, including Ford himself, and the people of Ajax.

The announcement follows after Ajax political icon Steve Parish, who served as mayor for 23 years, announced earlier this week he was coming out of retirement as the NDP candidate to challenge Phillips.

It remains to be seen who will step in to Phillip’s shoes to meet Parish and Liberal candidate Amber Bowen on the debate stage in the run-up to the election.

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